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Kulbhushan Jadhav Affair and India-Pakistan Conflict

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On April 10, 2017, a former Indian Navy officer national Kulbhushan Yadav was given the death sentence by a by an its Field General Court Martial under provisions of the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act. Jhadav can appeal the death sentence to Pakistan’s Supreme Court within 60 days.

H was convicted for espionage, anti-state activities, role in terror incidents and sabotage in the country. Yadav was taken into custody by Pakistani agencies in March 2016 in Balochistan. Diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan plunged following Jadav’s conviction, with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj warning Islamabad of “consequences” if Jadav’s death sentence was carried out.

Jadhav had admitted before the court that he worked for the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). He was involved in several clandestine activities to create instability in Karachi and Balochistan areas. During the trial, he was provided the services of a defending officer, as per law. India responded to this verdict by calling Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit to the Ministry of External Affairs and gave him a demarche saying that the court proceedings that led to the death sentence of Jhadav were “farcical” and it would consider it as “premeditated murder’. It also said that the ministry had “repeatedly sought” consular access to Jhadav but was not permitted by the Pakistani authorities. A day after India called conviction of Yadav in Pakistan a ‘farcical trial’, the United Nations declined to take a position on the death sentence handed to the self-confessed Indian spy. India denied Yadav was working for RAW but admits that he is a retired naval officer.

India was expected to be take up the matter when the US National Security Advisor McMaster visits India to meet PM Narendra Modi, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. Doval was said to be preparing to raise the matter with his counterpart. The United Nations have already made it clear that it will not intervene in the matter, The Indian government has been arguing it was difficult for India to verify Pakistan’s claims that Jhadav, a serving Indian Naval officer on an alleged spying mission entered Pakistan with original Indian passport.

Pakistan too was in no hurry to execute him and was likely to put him as a bargain to seek advantage in bigger negotiations.

As expected, Indian reaction was immediate and intense. There was fierce criticism of the verdict in the Indian media. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif quickly announced that the death sentence against Jhadav will not and cannot be carried out quickly. Meanwhile, it was reported that a retired Pakistani military officer in Nepal had disappeared which suggested that the spy wars between India and Pakistan had intensified. Certainly, the issue had to be handled calmly for the sake of normal relations between India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif played it cool, addressing an Air Force passing-out parade, said: “Cooperation rather than conflict and shared prosperity instead of suspicion are the hallmarks of our policy.” National Security Adviser and former Army general Nasser Khan Janjua, too, said India and Pakistan “cannot be enemies forever and must engage in dialogue to resolve disputes.” But Modi is heavily into populism based on hatred of Muslims and will not budge, especially as global politics is veering toward a new cold war between the U.S. and China in South and Southeast Asia. Helplessly, the Pakistan-India spy war will go on, hurting the future of the people living in the region.

An editorial “Reducing Pak-India tensions” published in Dawn, April 13th, 2017 argued that for four years now, Nawaz Sharif had expounded the same message of regional integration, trade and prosperity, but he had been incapable of convincing either India or the security establishment here. The National Security Adviser too has been “ineffective, notwithstanding the occasional willingness to speak candidly”. Meanwhile, Pakistan still did not have a foreign minister and the defense minister was “effectively irrelevant” because he had to foremost responsibility to tackle the electricity crisis as he was he minister of the power sector and that was his main portfolio. The teams advising the Premier in the domains of both national security and foreign policy are ad hoc. From that “self-created position of weakness, it is unlikely Mr. Sharif will have much success in implementing the vision he so often articulates”.

To complicate matters, Lt Col (retd) Muhammad Habib Zahir went missing from Nepal on April 6. The Foreign Office on Thursday hinted at the involvement of Indian intelligence agencies behind the abduction of a retired Pakistani colonel in Nepal. The media was abuzz with speculation that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has abducted the retired lieutenant colonel as a retaliatory act to the conviction of Kulbhushan Jhadav. Observers believe India could use the abducted Pakistani retired army officer as a bargaining chip for the RAW agent.

Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said India would go to any extent to ensure safety for Jhadav, calling Pakistan’s verdict ‘premeditated murder’. India would not leave any stone unturned to ensure safe release of Jhadav Pakistan Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif on April 13, 2017 informed the Senate that due process was followed in the trial of the serving Indian naval officer, who has 60 days to appeal the verdict.

On April 13, 2017, the Pakistan Army’s corps commanders agreed during a meeting at the army GHQ that there would be no concessions made in Jhadav’s death penalty because the man was convicted of serious offences against the state of Pakistan. The Foreign Office has also made it clear that there was irrefutable evidence against Jhadav and his role in terrorist activities as well as financing those activities on the soil of Pakistan. For a man who was initially disowned by his own countrymen, Jhadav had suddenly become somewhat of a cause celebre. Why else would 13 requests for consular access be made by the Indian diplomatic mission here if there was no connection between Jhadav and his handlers? Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria had explained that though New Delhi and Islamabad have a bilateral agreement on consular access it is Pakistan’s prerogative to refuse the same in the name of Article VI of the accord.

Meanwhile, media reported that there were 27 Pakistanis arrested for espionage

Most of the spies caught by the intelligence agencies have been apprehended from either military sensitive locations or in border towns. On April 14, 2017 India decided to put on hold all bilateral exchanges with Pakistan in reaction to the Jhadav affair. The Indian government called off talks between the two neighboring countries on maritime security which was scheduled to be held on April 17. India officially told Pakistan that it was not ready to host a delegation from Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA). Both Pakistan and India had earlier approved dialogue between PMSA and the Indian Coast Guard in a bid to break the deadlock caused by a militant attack on an Indian military base in Uri in September last year. According to the Indian Defense Ministry, it was not the time to discuss security with Pakistan when it had awarded the death sentence to Jhadav. The only engagement that Pakistan and India have had until now this year has been the 113th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission talks for which an Indian delegation visited Islamabad in March this year.

An editorial “No concessions on terror” published in The Express Tribune, April 15, 2017 argued that:

As Pakistan stiffened its stance on the death sentence handed out to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jhadav in the wake of threats by officials in New Delhi that the move would carry severe repercussions for Islamabad, there are mounting suspicions that hostile agencies are behind the recent abduction of a retired Pakistani serviceman in Nepal. …. Aggravating already fraught relations between India and Pakistan is the appearance of wild speculation in the Indian media about the alleged link between Jhadav’s case and the disappearance of Pakistani ex-serviceman Habib Zahir. Indian media outlets have claimed that Zahir had been part of the team that captured Jhadav. The truth, however, is that Zahir retired from military service several years before Jhadav’s arrest. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the Research and Analysis Wing or some such hostile agency may have entrapped him and kept him in its custody for leverage in the Jhadav case. Instead of relying on legal and diplomatic measures, New Delhi appears to be working on some hidden fronts as usual.

On April 14, 2017, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz shared with media the state’s charge sheet against Indian spy Kulbhushan Jhadav and a timeline of his trial. Aziz told a press conference that Jhadav had been held responsible for the following terrorist activities in Pakistan:

Sponsored and directed IED and grenade attacks in Gwadar and Turbat; directed attacks on a radar station and civilian boats in the sea opposite to Jiwani Port; funded subversive secessionist and terrorist elements through hawala/hundi for subverting Pakistani youth against the country, especially in Balochistan; sponsored explosions of gas pipelines and electric pylons in Sibi and Sui areas in Balochistan; sponsored IED explosions in Quetta in 2015, causing massive damage to life and property; sponsored attack on Hazaras in Quetta and Shias en route to and back from Iran; and abetted attacks through anti-state elements against LEAs, FC and FWO in areas of Turbat, Punjgur, Gawadar, Pasni and Jiwani during 2014-15, killing and injuring many civilians and soldiers.

On the occasion, Aziz also asked why Jhadav had been carrying official documents under an alias at the time of his arrest. “I would like to ask India why he [Jhadav] was using a fake identity and masquerading as a Muslim,” Aziz asked. “Why would an innocent man possess two passports — one with a Hindu name and other with a Muslim name,” he asked.

Reassuring critics that steps had been taken to ensure transparency during the trial of the Indian spy under Pakistan’s laws and the Pakistan Army Act, Aziz also provided a timeline of the trial and proceedings against Jhadav.

Indian external affairs minister V. K. Singh had reiterated that the Indian government was considering all steps to get access to Jhadav. The case of Kulbhushan Jhadav continues to remain at a boiling point. While India has postponed talks between the coast guards, Pakistan is apparently compiling a new dossier for the international community on the Indian national accused of being a RAW spy. While Pakistan has not yet given a copy of the judgement, it will apparently be part of a new dossier on Jhadav, which will be handed over to the United Nations and ambassadors in Islamabad, Pakistani newspaper The Nation reported. The new dossier was to be based on the early testimonial as well as statements given in front of the court by Jhadav. Pakistan had collected “fresh evidences on Indian involvement inside Pakistan to spread anarchy and militancy, sources stated,” according to the report. Meanwhile, external affairs minister V. K. Singh reiterated that the Indian government was considering all steps to get access to Jhadav. “Pakistan government has denied consular access to Jhadav despite India trying for 13 times. We are trying everything to get access to Jhadav,” he told reporters. Meanwhile, there has not been any statements from India or Pakistan on April 15, 2017 about the retired Pakistan army soldier, who reportedly went missing near the India-Nepal border two days before Jhadav’s death sentence was publicly revealed. Pakistan officials had pointed fingers at India saying that he had been “lured” by foreign intelligence agencies, but Indian diplomats – in Delhi and in Islamabad – have told the media that they don’t have any information.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia said on April 14, 2017 that “India should bomb Pakistan to secure the release of ex-navy officer Kulbhushan Jhadav and carpet bomb Kashmiri “jihadis” to stop the spread of militancy…Our government should show similar resolve of India First by bombing Pakistan, which is barely 800 km from New Delhi and securing the Indian soldier’s release,”.

Meanwhile, the law-enforcement authorities of Azad Kashmir, Pakistan claimed to have arrested three Indian intelligence agents for alleged anti-state activities on April 13, 2017. The charges leveled against the three “Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) recruits” included bombing a police station in the region. The three have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and Explosives Act.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s defense minister has tried to assure that the death sentence of Jhadav was not carried out without due process. He has made an appeal for amnesty to the president. The Indian media had most predictably hit the roof. Mohammad Waseem, in his article. “Political temperature on the rise, The News, April 16, aptly stated that:

Diplomacy in a political environment characterized by vitriol of the worst kind emanating from the two sides of the spectrum is bound to suffer. On a larger scale, the world opinion has yet to give its final verdict… One can only hope for a deft handling of the issues at hand whereby peace and harmony, instead of tension and confusion, emerge as milestones of political strategy at home and foreign policy abroad.

On April 16, 2017 Pakistan stated that a dossier on Kulbhushan Jhadav’s involvement in espionage will be handed over to foreign envoys in Pakistan. The dossier will also be sent to the UN and other institutions. Sources said details about Indian interference in Pakistan, Jhadav’s involvement in sabotage and subversive activities in Pakistan were added in the dossier. Talking to state-run media, Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said India was involved in spreading terrorism in Pakistan. He said India was also involved in terror financing activities in the country. To a question, he said barbaric activities against innocent Kashmiris in the Indian-held Kashmir had been exposed. To another question regarding Col (r) Habib Zahir, he said the Nepalese government was cooperating with Pakistan in this matter.

India was looking to mount yet another diplomatic offensive to save Jadhav and the government was awaiting a response from Pakistan over its demand for a copy of the charge sheet against Jadhav as it mulled options to secure his release. The government was contemplating a move like the one it launched last year after the Uri attack to “isolate” Pakistan. As a first step, India blocked maritime security dialogue between the two countries. This was the first move by the Indian government to raise the stakes for Pakistan after the Jhadav sentencing as it suggested that the two countries could be returning to the situation which prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the Uri attack last year in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan had consistently maintained that the two governments need to start the comprehensive bilateral dialogue, as announced in December 2015, to resolve outstanding issues. The maritime talks, coupled with meetings mandated by Indus Waters Treaty, were a small beginning by both the countries to move on after the bitter exchanges over Uri. The Indian government was also likely to review its attempts in the past few months to encourage people to people contacts with Pakistan.

Are India and Pakistan heading towards possibly the nastiest crisis in South Asia since the Mumbai terrorist incident of 2008? By Barkha Dutt, in her article “Pakistan’s move to execute alleged Indian ‘spy’ may be a ploy to sabotage the prime minister”, The Washington Post, April 16, 2017 maintained that:

In any case, whether Jadhav is a spy is moot. What is beyond dispute is that the Pakistan Army’s declaration of a death sentence for him via a clandestine court-martial breaks with all standard practice; it is almost an open invitation to escalation from India…. … “The timing and manner of announcement of the Jadhav decision indicates that it is either a bargaining chip to exchange someone in India’s custody or is meant to deter the country’s civilian prime minister from any new initiatives to mend fences with India,” …. Like all seasoned practitioners of statecraft, he knows that Pakistan is unlikely to take things to a dangerous precipice with India over the arrest of a spy; the motive lies elsewhere. Another explanation: Pakistan wants to use Jadhav as leverage to counter the aggressive global push by Delhi to isolate Islamabad as the perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism. But the Narendra Modi government has never gone by the conventional playbook on Pakistan. From dropping in to visit Nawaz Sharif on his birthday to surgical strikes across the line of control, the Indian prime minister has followed his own script of shock and awe on Pakistan, in both friendship and hostility. Pakistan’s move on the tactical chessboard may prove to be a gambit gone wrong if India decides to play back in kind.

Indian-Pakistani relations weren’t going well even before the Jhadav affair. India’s dialogue process with Pakistan has been stalled since the attack on the Pathankot air force base in January 2016. Last month, India sent its officials to the meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission in Islamabad. During the meeting, World Bank officials had mooted that water resources secretaries could meet in Washington from April 10 -13 to find a resolution over the dispute mechanism. India, however, had conveyed its reluctance to accept those dates in March.

Indian interference in the affairs of Karachi wasn’t just baseless Pakistani propaganda, it was a fact. Uzair Jan Baloch, the notorious dacoit of Karachi’s Lyari, was arrested in January 2016 in Pakistan after a period of hiding outside the country. He will face a military court for “espionage activities, providing secret information regarding Army installations and officials to foreign agents (Iranian intelligence officers) which is a violation of the Official Secret Act 1923.”

A symbol of the criminalization of Karachi politics, Baloch belongs to the family of Rehman Dakait, the underworld boss of Karachi who was politically embedded in the Muhajir-Sindhi conflict that played out between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Uzair has confessed to an Iranian “connection” in the Baloch nationalist movement in restive Balochistan; hence implying an Indian “connection” as well. Lest one forgets, Iran has accused Pakistan of aiding Iranian Baloch who often target Tehran’s soldiers. Abdolmalik Rigi, who was hanged in an Iranian jail in 2010, was educated on the sly in Saudi-funded Madrassa Banuria in Karachi before he joined the killer Jundallah with Al Qaeda in Pakistan and began attacking inside Iran.

The “Indian connection” finally reduced MQM to a shell of its former glory in Karachi. The PPP too has been weakened by the ongoing military operation in the metropolis against its extortionists. Pakistan sees an “Indian hand” in the uprising in its Balochistan province.

There was apprehension that the matter had to be calmly tackled otherwise it would blow up in to a new crisis between the two estranged seigneurs

Clearly, Pakistan was unable to move towards any dialogue with India on any issue, including spy wars. Meanwhile, Pakistan had decided in principle not to accept any pressure on the issue. Most probably the Jhadav affair would be settled with a deal of some sorts between India and Pakistan. Some concessions will be given by India in exchange of the spy being handing over to them in due time. It was just a matter of time when the trade took place. Pakistan did not want to escalate the already tense situation further. Despite the bravado, a deal would be made and Jhadav would be freed soon.

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The failure of the great games in Afghanistan from the 19th century to the present day

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Whenever great powers have tried to make Afghanistan a colony, they have always been defeated. British imperialism and its “civilising mission” towards backward (and therefore terrorist) populations – a mission equal to that of the time when Great Britain established itself as the first drug pusher to the Chinese Empire with the two opium wars of 1839-1842; 1856-1860: an action that was terrorist at the best.

The Russian Empire and its exporting the orthodox faith and the values of the Tsar towards the barbaric (and therefore terrorist) Afghans. The Soviet Union and its attempt to impose secularisation on Muslim (and therefore terrorist) Afghans in the period 1979-1991. The United States of America that thought it could create parties, democracy, Coke, miniskirts, as well as gambling and pleasure houses by bombing the Afghan terrorists tout-court.

In this article I will try to explain why Afghanistan won 4-0, and in 1919 – thanks to its rulers’ wise skills – was one of the only six actual independent Asian States (Japan, Nepal, Thailand and Yemen), so that at least the barroom experts – who, by their nature, believe that History is just a fairy tale like that of Cinderella and stepmother with evil sisters – reflect on the nonsense we read and hear every day in the press and in the media.

In his book I luoghi della Storia (Rizzoli, Milan 2000), former Ambassador Sergio Romano wrote on page 196: “The Afghans spent a good part of the nineteenth century playing a diplomatic and military game with the great powers – the so-called “Great Game” – the main rule of which was to use the Russians against the Brits and the Brits against the Russians”.

In the days when geopolitics was a forbidden subject and the word was forbidden, in the history textbooks of secondary schools it seemed that the United States of America and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had fallen from the sky as large as they were on the atlases. I still remember that in the dialogues between professors and high school students, it was stated that the two powers could not be called colonial, since they had something messianic and redeeming in themselves (therefore anti-terrorist).

It was only thanks to western movies that the young people of the time understood how the thirteen Lutheran colonies had extended westwards into lands that we were led to believe had been inhabited by savage villains to be exterminated (hence terrorists) and by uncivilised Spaniards, as Catholics, to be defeated. Moreover, we did not dare to study Russia’s expansion eastwards and southwards, at the risk that the high school students – unprepared, pure and enthusiastic – would understand that the homeland of socialism had no different assumptions from all other imperialisms.

Sometimes the students heard about the great game or, in Russian, the tournament of shadows (turniry teney). What was the great game? Today it is mostly remembered as the epic of freedom of the unconquered Afghans, but in reality its solution meant the alliance between Russia and Great Britain, which lasted at least until the eve of the Cold War. A key position that is sometimes too overlooked, and not only in scientific and classical textbooks, but also in many essays by self-proclaimed experts.

British aversion to the Russian Empire – apart from the “necessary” anti-Napoleonic alliances in the Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth and Seventh Coalitions – dated back to the 17th century and worsened considerably in the 19th century. Although Russian exports of grain, natural fibres and other agricultural crops were made to Great Britain – because the Russian landowners were well disposed to good relations with the Brits in order to better market those products abroad – there were no political improvements. The opposition came more from Great Britain than from Russia.

Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1825-55) – in the late 1830s, during his trip to Great Britain in 1842, and later in 1850-52, i.e. just before the Crimean War (1853-56) – often tried to bring about normalisation, but due to British suspicions and doubts (the Russians were considered to be terrorists) this did not occur.

What worried the Foreign Office – created in March 1782 – was Russia’s fast march eastwards, southwards and south-westwards. Great Britain could feel Russian breath on it from the three sides of India. The Russian goals with regard to Turkey, the successes in Trancaucasia and the Persian goals, not to mention the colonisation of Central Asia, initiated by the aforementioned Tsar Nicholas I, and conducted vigorously by his successor Alexander II (1818-1855-81), were – for Her Britannic Majesty’s diplomats and generals – a blatant and threatening intimidation of India’s “pearl”.

In the north-west of the Indian subcontinent the British possessions bordered on the Thar desert and on Sindh (the Indus River delta) which constituted a Muslim State under leaders residing at Haidarābād, conquered by the Brits in 1843. To the north-east of Sindh, the Punjab region had been amalgamated into a strong State by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji (1780-1801-39) who, as a simple Governor of Lahore (Lâhau) on behalf of the Afghan Emir, Zaman Shah Durrani (1770-93-1800-†44), had succeeded not only in becoming independent, but also in extending his power over Kashmir and Pīshāwar, creating the Sikh Empire in 1801, which was overthrown by Great Britain during the I (1845-46) and II (1848-49) Anglo-Sikh wars; the region became what is known as the Pakistani Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the North-West Frontier Province).

Given the British expansion into the neighbouring States of Afghanistan and Persia, Russia’s influence was trying to creep in; hence the Brits were paying close attention to what was happening on the border of the great Northern “neighbour”.

Russia had long been aiming to make its way to India through Western Turkestan, but that steppe region was inhabited by the Kyrgyz in the north-east and the Turks (Turkmen) in the south-west.

After unsuccessful attempts at peaceful penetration, the Russian Governor of Orenburg, Gen. Vasilij Alekseevič Perovskij (1794-1857), prepared an expedition against Chiva: it involved crossing about a thousand kilometres of desert and was thought to be easier to make during the winter. The expedition left from Orenburg in November 1839, but the cold killed so many men and camels that the Commander had to give up the venture and turn back (spring 1840). For a long time, the Russians did not attempt any more military infiltrations there.

In Persia, instead, Russian influence was strongly felt: Tsar Alexander II pushed the Shah, Naser al-Din Qajar (1831-48-96), to undertake an enterprise against the city of Herāt (which dominated the passage from Persia and Western Turkestan into India): it had detached itself from Afghanistan and had been a separate State since 1824. The Persian expedition began in the autumn of 1837: Herāt resisted strenuously, so much so that in the summer of 1838 the Shah had to renounce the siege and accept Britain’s mediation for peace with the sovereign of that city. That diplomatic move was therefore also detrimental to the influence of St. Petersburg. Even the first relations established by Russia with the Emir of Afghanistan did not lead to any result.

In those years, Russia was busy quelling the insurrections of the mountain populations in the Caucasus, where the exploits of the alleged Italian sheikh, Mansur Ushurma (Giambattista Boetti, 1743-98), in the service of the Chechen cause, still echoed.

Through two treaties concluded with Persia (1828) and Turkey (1829), Russia had become the master of the region; however, it found an obstinate resistance from the local populations that still persists today.

The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42) was one of the most important military conflicts of the great game and one of the worst British defeats in the region. The Brits had started an expedition to Afghanistan to overthrow Emir Dost Mohammad (1793-1826-39, 42-63), the first of the Barakzai dynasty, and replace him with the last of the Durrani dynasty, Ayub Shah (17??-1819-23, †37), who had been dethroned in 1823, but he renounced. Not wanting to cross the Sikh country in order not to arouse mistrust among the Sikhs, the British entered Baluchistan, occupied the capital (Qalat), then penetrated into Afghanistan and advanced without encountering serious resistance as far as Kabul, where on August 7, 1839 they installed their own puppet, Shuja Shah (1785-1842), formerly Emir from 1803 to 1809.

Dost Mohammad was caught and sent to Calcutta. A the beginning of 1841, however, one of his sons – Sher Ali – aroused the Afghans’ rebellion. The military commander, Gen. William George Keith Elphinstone (b. 1782), got permission to leave with 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 non-combatants to return to India. In the mountain passes near Kabul, however, the expedition was taken by surprise and annihilated (January 1842). The commander died as prisoner of the Afghans (on April 23).

The Brits obviously wanted revenge: they sent other troops that, in September of the same year, reconquered Kabul: this time the Brits – intimidated – did not deem it advisable to remain there. Convinced they had reaffirmed a certain prestige, they withdrew and, since the Emir they protected had died on April 5, 1842, they agreed – helplessly – to Dost Mohammad’s return to the throne. He conquered Herāt forever for Afghanistan.

Russia did not just stand by and watch and asserted its power in the Far East. In the years 1854-58 – despite its engagement in the Crimean war: the first real act of the great game, as Britain had to defend the Ottoman Empire from Sarmatian aspirations of conquest – it had established, with a series of expeditions, its jurisdiction over the province of Amur, through the Treaty of Aigun – labelled as the unequal treaty as it was imposed on China – on May 28, 1858. Shortly afterwards the fleet arrived at Tien-Tsin (Tianjin), forced China into another treaty on June 26-27, thus obtaining the opening of ports for trade, and the permanence of a Russian embassy in Peking. Moreover, in Central Asia, Russia renewed its attempts to advance against the khanates of Buchara and Kokand (Qo’qon), and had once again led the Shah of Persia, Mozaffar ad-Din Qajar (1853-96-1907), to try again the enterprise of Herāt (1856), which had caused again the British intervention (Anglo-Persian War, 1856-57) that ended with Persia’s recognition of the independence of the aforementioned city. The Anglo-Russian rivalry thus continued to be one of the essential problems of Central Asia, for the additional reason that Russia gradually expanded into West Turkestan, Buchara and Chiva between 1867 and 1873.

After the Russian conquests in West Turkestan, Dost Mohammad’ son and successor, Sher Ali (1825-63-66, 68-79), came under the influence of the neighbouring power, which was trying to penetrate the area to the detriment of Britain. On July 22, 1878 St Petersburg sent a mission. The Emir repelled a similar British mission at the Khyber Pass in September 1878, thus triggering the start of the war. The Brits soon opened hostilities, invading the country with 40,000 soldiers

 from three different points.

The Emir went into exile in Mazār-i-Sharīf, leaving his son Mohammad Yaqub (1849-79-80, †1914) as heir. He signed the Treaty of Gandamak on May 26, 1879 to prevent a British invasion of the rest of the country.

Once the British First Resident, the Italian Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (b. 1841) went to Kabul, he was assassinated there on September 3, 1879. British troops organised a second expedition and occupied the capital. They did not trust the Emir and raised a nephew of Dost Mohammed, Abdur Rahman (1840/44-80-1901), to power on May 31, 1880. He pledged to have no political relations except with Britain.

The former Emir, Mohammad Yaqub, took up arms and severely defeated the Brits at Maiwand on July 27, 1880, with the help of the Afghan heroine Malalai Anaa (1861-80), who rallied the Pashtun troops against the attackers. On September 1 of the same year Mohammad Yaqub was defeated and put to flight by Gen. Frederick Roberts (1832-1914) in the Battle of Kandahâr, which ended the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

This brought Afghanistan permanently under British influence, which was secured by the construction of a railway from the Indus River to the Afghan city of Kandahâr. Since the railway passed through Beluchistan, it was definitively annexed to British India. In 1880, Russia began the construction of the Transcaspian Railway, which alarmed the Brits who extended the section of their “railroad” to Herāt.

It was only with the accession to the throne of Imānullāh (1892-1919-29, †60), on February 28, 1919 (Shah from 1926), that Afghanistan took its foreign policy away from Great Britain through the Third Anglo-Afghan War (6 May-8 August 1919), by which the Afghans finally threw the Brits out of the picture (Treaty of Râwalpindî of August 8, 1919, amended on November 22, 1921).

As early as 1907, the Russian government had declared it considered Afghanistan to be outside its sphere of influence, and pledged not to send any agents there, as well as to consult the British government about its relations with that country.

Indeed, Britain soon gave up direct control of the country, given the fierce fighting spirit of its people, who had humiliated it many times, and contented itself with guarding and keeping the north-west Indian border under control.

In reality, the great game has never ended. As Spartacus Alfredo Puttini stated (La Russia di Putin sulla scacchiera, in “Eurasia”, A. IX, No. 1, January-March 2012, pp. 129-147), upon his coming to power Vladimir Putin found himself grappling with a difficult legacy. Gorbachev’s policy of katastroika had dealt a lethal blow to the Soviet and later Russian colossus.

Within a few years, Russia had embarked on a unilateral disarmament that led, at first, to its withdrawal from Afghanistan and then from Central and Eastern Europe. While the State was heading for collapse and the economy was being disrupted, it was the very periphery of the Soviet Union that was catching fire due to separatist movements promptly subsidised by those who – in the great game – replaced the Brits. Massive US aid to the heroic anti-Soviet patriots, who were later branded as terrorists.

In a short time the real collapse occurred and the ‘new’ Russia found itself geopolitically shrunken and morally and materially prostrated by the great looting made by the pro-Western oligarchs in the shadow of the Yeltsin Presidency.

To the west, the country had returned to the borders of the 17th century; to the south, it had lost Southern Caucasus and valuable Central Asia, where the new great game was soon to begin. In other words, the process of disruption would not stop, and would infect the Russian Federation itself: Chechnya had engaged in a furious war of secession that threatened to spread like wildfire to the whole of Northern Caucasus and, in the long run, called into question the very survival of the Russian State divided into autonomous entities.

This was followed by the phenomenon of “orangism” in 2003-2005 (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan): the various caricatures of oxymoronic “liberal” revolutions aimed at moving certain governments away from Russia’s influence.

Ultimately, the central power had been undermined on all sides by the policy of Yeltsin and his clan, aimed at granting extensive autonomy to the regions of the Federation. Public property, the glue of State authority and the instrument of its concrete activity to guide and orient the nation, had been sold off. Over time, Putin put things right, and the rest is condensed into the restoration choices of the plebiscitary vote in his favour.

In the end Afghanistan also saw the US failure, which I have examined in previous articles.

The Asian sense of freedom is summed up in the expulsion of foreign aggressors from their own homelands and territories. Someone should start to understand this.

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The Post-US Withdrawal Afghanistan: India, China and the ‘English Diplomacy’

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The recent developments in Afghanistan, the impatient Tri-axis and the emphatic India at SCO, with the ‘English Diplomacy’ at display that tends to blunt the Chinese aggressiveness in South China Sea mark a new power interplay in the world politics. It also shows why the US went for AUKUS and how it wants to focus on the Indo-Pacific.

Afghanistan has turned out to be the most incandescent point of world politics today deflecting the eyes from the South China Sea and Gaza Strip. What is more startling is the indifferent attitude United States has shown to the other stakeholders in the war torn state. While Brexit appears to have created fissure in the European Union the AUKUS effects further marginalisation of France and India against the US-British and QUAD understandings. The vacuum that US have created in Afghanistan has invited several actors willing to expand their energy access to central Asia and Afghanistan provides an important bridge in between. The TAPI economics (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline) and huge Indian investments are endangered by the Afghan security question and make it imminent for India to stay in Afghanistan as a reckoning force.

The Taliban and the Troika

While the Russo-Chinese and Pakistani engagement with the Taliban’s takeover was visible the US exit has invited the wrath of other stakeholders like India, Saudi Arabia and Iran. India is significantly affected because of its huge investments of over 3 billion dollars over two decades in Afghanistan that would become target of the orthodox retrogressive Taliban regime. The government of India’s stand on Afghanistan is that an ‘Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. Any political settlement must be inclusive and should preserve the socio-economic and political gains of the past 19 years. India supports a united, democratic and sovereign Afghanistan. India is deeply concerned about the increase in violence and targeted killings in Afghanistan. India has called for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire’(MEA).

However, the takeover by Taliban that endangers India’s strategic and capital interests has made it pro-active in the state. Probably for the first time in Afghan history, India has shown aggressive tones against the militant government which may create problem for Kashmir in the longer run. The Pakistani air force’s engagement over the Panjashir assault by Taliban has unravelled the larger plans of destabilisation in South Asia.

In the meantime China has unequivocally expressed its willingness, as was expected to work with Taliban. The visit of Taliban delegation, led by Abdul Ghani Baradar who also heads the office of Taliban at Doha, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials in Tianjin, on July 28, 2021. The visit followed the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Kureshi’s visit to Beijing and unravelled how the two states have been supporting the Talibani cause. Although, China has its own perceptions about Xinjiang and Mr. Wang even told the Taliban “to draw a line” between the group and terror organisations, specifically the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which has carried out attacks in Xinjiang. Russia too has shown interest in Taliban and it didn’t plan to evacuate its embassy at Kabul. Its foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov said that Russia will carefully see how responsibly they (Taliban) govern the country in the near future. And based on the results, the Russian leadership will draw the necessary conclusions.

The little Indo-Russian engagements over Afghanistan have minimised the scope of cooperation over the decades now. Although, Russia has been trying to follow a balancing policy between India and Pakistan yet its leanings towards the latter is manifest from its recent policies. “The extent of Russia-Pakistan coordination broadened in 2016, as Russia, China, and Pakistan created a trilateral format to discuss stabilizing Afghanistan and counterterrorism strategy. In December 2016, Russia, China, and Pakistan held talks on combating Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP), which were widely criticized in the U.S. for excluding the Afghan government.” (Ramani). The deliberate neglect of Afghan government and Indian role reveals the neo-Russian policy in South Asia that de-hyphenates India and Pakistan and sees Pakistan through the lens of BRI and at the cost of North-South Corridor. The Chinese and Russian belief that by supporting Taliban they will secure security for their disturbed territories and escape from terrorism appears to be unrealistic keeping in view the Taliban’s characteristics which are chameleon like i.e. political, organizational and jihadi at the same time looking for appropriate opportunities.

Is it the Post-Brexit Plan?

The Brexit ensures a better space for Britain; at least this is what Brits believe, in international politics following the future US overseas projects. However, it for sure annoys some of its serious allies with the new takes. The announcement of the AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) pact, a historic security pact in the Asia-Pacific to contain China is an important step in this direction. The Brexit and the US-withdrawal seen together mark a shift in US policy perception of Asia that aims at Asia Pacific more as compared to Central Asia. It has not only betrayed India in Afghanistan but also France through AUKUS which sees an end to its multibillion dollar deal with Australia. France now shows a stronger commitment to support India in its moves against Taliban and Pakistan’s interventions.

President Macron recalled French ambassadors for consultations after the AUKUS meet that dropped France deliberately from the major maritime security deal. The French anguish is not about its absence in the deal by the Canberra, Washington and London but being an allied nation, its neglect in the secret deal. “The announcement ended a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) that France had signed with Australia in 2016 to build 12 conventional submarines. China meanwhile accused the three powers involved in the pact of having a “Cold War mentality”(Schofield 2021). It also reminds one of the Roosevelt’s efforts at truncating French arms in Asia, especially in Indo-China and the consequent sequence of betrayals by the US. AUKUS also symbolises the ‘English diplomacy’ of the English speaking states just like the Five Eyes (FVEY), an intelligence alliance consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Started around 1946 the member countries are parties to the multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence. Recently there have been voices for taking India, Japan and South Korea also into its fold to strengthen the contain China job.

The Wildered QUAD

While the first ever in-person QUAD summit approaches near, the announcement of AUKUS shows haze that prevails over the US decision making. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga meet at the White House for the summit on September 24, 2021. This follows the virtual meet held in March 2021. How apposite it would be to declare a maritime deal at a time when the QUAD meet is about to take place with the same motives and plans, notwithstanding the fact that QUAD has a wider platform for discussion like climate change, cyberspace, pandemic and Indo-Pacific. Is there an uncertainty over the realisation of QUAD? However, AUKUS  unravels the US intentions of first line preferences and second line associates in its future projects that will further marginalise its allies like France, Germany and many other states in future.

SCO

At SCO meet at Dushanbe India has unequivocally announced its view of the situation that takes Taliban as a challenge to peace and development in Afghanistan and South Asia. Prime Minister Modi remarked that the first issue is that the change of authority in Afghanistan was not inclusive and this happened without negotiation. This raises questions on the prospects of recognition of the new system. Women, minorities and different groups have not been given due representation. He also insisted on the crucial role that UN can play in Afghanistan. India’s investment in the Iranian port of Chabahar and the International North-South Corridor along with TAPI are central to its argument on the recent developments in Afghanistan. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar had also remarked in July 2021 that the landlocked Central Asian countries can benefit immensely by connecting with the huge market of India and the future of Afghanistan cannot be its past and that the world must not let the new generation of Afghans down (Hindustan Times). The Indian message is clear and received huge support at Dushanbe and India is poised to play a greater role in Afghanistan, where the US and Russia have failed miserably.

The Internal Dynamics

The internal dynamics in Afghanistan presage a government by uncertainty in the coming months as Sirajudin Haqqani of Pak supported Haqqani network, captures Mulla Baradar, the man who settled the deal with US at Doha. It appears from the Pakistani backed government of Haqqani that Baradar has been dumped for his commitment for inclusive government expected to be pro-west against the Sino-Pakistan expectations. The US reluctance to remain engaged in the troubled region marks a shift in US foreign policy but the exclusion of its allies from Indo-Pacific plan are bound to bring new engagements in world power politics. While US dumped Afghans France and Israel appear as new hopes for Indian led moves against the undemocratic terrorist forces in Afghanistan.

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South Asia

Opposing Hindutava: US conference raises troubling questions

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Controversy over a recent ‘Dismantling Global Hindutava’ conference that targeted a politically charged expression of Hindu nationalism raises questions that go far beyond the anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and ruling party.

The conference and responses to it highlight a debilitating deterioration in the past two decades, especially since 9/11, of the standards of civility and etiquette that jeopardize civil, intelligent, and constructive debate and allow expressions of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes to become mainstream.

Organizers of the conference that was co-sponsored by 53 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, insisted that they distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutava, Mr. Modi’s notion of Hindu nationalism that enables discrimination against and attacks on India’s 200 million Muslims.

The distinction failed to impress critics who accused the organizers of Hinduphobia. Some critics charged that the framing of the conference demonstrated a pervasiveness of groupthink in academia and an unwillingness to tackle similar phenomena in other major religions, particularly Islam.

The campaign against the conference appeared to have been organized predominantly by organizations in the United States with links to militant right-wing Hindu nationalist groups in India, including some with a history of violence. The conference’s most militant critics threatened violence against conference speakers and their families, prompting some participants to withdraw from the event.

Opponents of political Islam noted that Western academia has not organized a similar conference about the politicization of the faith even though powerful states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have lobbied Western capitals against the Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish and Qatari supporters with notable successes in France, Austria, Belgium and Britain.

Academia was likely to have been hesitant to tackle political Islam because Islamophobia is far more prevalent than Hinduphobia.

Moreover, perceptions of political Islam, are far more complex and convoluted. Islam is frequently conflated with political expressions and interpretations of the faith run a gamut from supremacist and conservative to more liberal and tolerant. They also lump together groups that adhere and respect the election process and ones that advocate violent jihad.

Scholars and analysts declared an end to political Islam’s heyday with the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother, who was elected president in Egypt’s first and only free and fair poll. Political Islam’s alleged swansong loomed even larger with this year’s setbacks for two of the most moderate Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Morocco as well as hints that Turkey may restrict activities of Islamists operating in exile from Istanbul.

A more fundamental criticism of the framing of the Hindutava conference is its failure to put Hindutava in a broader context.

That context involves the undermining of the social cohesion of societies made up of collections of diverse ethnic and religious communities since Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The attacks fueled the rise of ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism not only in the Hindu world but also in the worlds of other major religions.

These include politicized ultra-conservative Islam, politicized Evangelism and Buddhist nationalism. Right-wing religious nationalism in Israel, unlike Islamism and politicized Evangelism, is shaped by ultra-nationalism rather than religious ultra-conservatism.

The worlds of religious ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism are often mutually reinforcing.

Scholar Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s assessment of the impact of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States is equally true for India or Europe.

“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the rise of violent jihadism reshaped American politics in ways that created fertile ground for right-wing extremism. The attacks were a gift to peddlers of xenophobia, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism: as dark-skinned Muslim foreigners bent on murdering Americans, Al-Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream,” Ms. Miller-Idriss said.

“Almost overnight, the United States and European countries abounded with precisely the fears that the far-right had been trying to stoke for decades,” she added.

The comparison of politically charged militant nationalist and ultra-conservative expressions of diverse religions takes on added significance in a world that has seen the emergence of civilizationalist leaders.

Scholar Sumantra Bose attributes the rise of religious nationalism in non-Western states like Turkey and India to the fact that they never adopted the Western principle of separation of state and church.

Instead, they based their secularism on the principle of state intervention and regulation of the religious sphere. As a result, the rejection of secularism in Turkey and India fits a global trend that conflates a dominant religious identity with national identity.

Sarah Kamali, the author of a recently published book that compares militant white nationalists to militant Islamists in the United States, notes similar patterns while drawing parallels between far-right xenophobes and militant Islamists.

Militant Islamists’ “sense of victimhood […] is similar to that of their White nationalist counterparts in that [it] is constructed and exploited to justify their violence… Both mutually – and exclusively – target America for the purpose of claiming the nation as theirs and theirs alone, either as a White ethno-state or as part of a global caliphate,” Ms. Kamali writes.

Similarly, the Taliban defeat of a superpower energized militant Islamists, as well as proponents of Hindutava, with Islamophobic narratives spun by Mr. Modi’s followers gaining new fodder with the assertion that India was being encircled by Muslim states hosting religious extremists.

Modi is essentially helping the recruitment of…jihadist groups by taking such a hard, repressive line against the Islamic community in India, who are now being forced to see themselves being repressed,” said Douglas London, the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief for South and South-West Asia until 2019.

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